Program Requirements

Vanderbilt's Neuroscience Graduate Program prepares each student to make significant contributions in neuroscience and fosters development from trainee to independent research scientist and educator. This is achieved by combining sound training in the fundamentals of neural science with more specialized training that focuses on the integration of this knowledge base into a study of nervous system function and disease. Students have the option of a curriculum and research program that emphasizes either Cellular & Molecular or Cognitive & Systems neuroscience. The training, which combines rigorous course work with opportunities for state-of-the-art research, is designed to prepare graduates for a future in which neuroscientists must be able to make the transition from molecules and cells to neural systems and behavior.

Summary of Requirements
Students can enter the Neuroscience Graduate through the Interdisciplinary Graduate Program (IGP), or be directly admitted into the Neuroscience Graduate Program (NGP), or through the Medical Scientist Training Program (MSTP). As stipulated by the Vanderbilt University Graduate School, 72 total hours of graduate credit is required for the Neuroscience Ph.D. degree with a minimum of 24 hours of didactic (classroom) coursework and the balance of up to 48 credits of research hours. In most cases didactic course work will be completed during the first two years. At the end of the second year, a Ph.D. Qualifying Examination must be satisfactorily completed for the student to then be admitted into doctoral candidacy for a Ph.D. degree in neuroscience. If needed, remaining course electives may be taken following the Qualifying Examination After a student completes the qualifying process, the student's effort is largely directed towards completing her/his dissertation project.  The average time to degree in our program is just over 5 years.

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In addition to the academic requirements described below, every student is required to complete Teaching Apprenticeship/Assistantship in at least one course during graduate training. Also, students are required to attend the Neuroscience Graduate Program Seminar series, Research Forum, and the Annual Neuroscience Retreat.

Didactic Requirements
All neuroscience graduate students are required to take a minimum of 24 hours of coursework by the time they are ready for qualifying exams in the summer and fall of their second to third years. Besides the 24 non-research credits required, students have the option to take additional electives and research hours, up to a total of 12 credits (including required courses) per semester.

Required courses (1st and 2nd years):

IGP Entry

Bioregulation I & II

Fundamentals of Neuroscience I and II (NURO 8340 and 8345)

Neuroscience Discussions I & II (NURO 8325, 2 semesters)

Neuroscience Research Forum, (NURO 8320, multiple semesters)


NGP Direct Entry

Fundamentals of Neuroscience I and II (NURO 8340 and 8345)

Neuroscience Discussions I & II (NURO 8325, 2 semesters)

Neuroscience Research Forum, (NURO 8320, multiple semesters)


MSTP Entry – see “Compass” MSTP handbook.

All Students

Second year

SUMMER: Qualifying Examination; Research Hours

Third year
* FALL: Research Forum; Research Hours.
* SPRING: Research Forum; Research Hours.
* SUMMER: Research Hours.

Fourth and Fifth years

Successful completion of Teaching Apprenticeship, Research Forum and Neuroscience Graduate Seminars; thesis Research and Defense of Thesis.

Accumulating Credits
72 credit hours are required to graduate with the Ph.D. degree from Vanderbilt University.  This includes the required minimum 24 credits from the didactic coursework in addition to any electives; MSTP students are limited to 24 total didactic credits.  The hours of course work may be increased (but not decreased), with a corresponding reduction in research hours. The required neuroscience courses are the same for MSTP students who have entered the Neuroscience Graduate Program’s Molecular and Cellular concentration but, for MSTP students, electives will be determined for each individual based on research interests and courses completed in the first two years of medical study.  MSTP students must take the MSTP Seminar course (IGP 310) until all 72 graduate hours are earned.  All graduate students who have completed their required 72 credit hours will be required to register for NURO 399 (Ph.D. Dissertation Research) for 0 credits until they graduate.

Outcomes, Monitoring and Progress

Over the past 10 years, the Neuroscience Graduate Program at Vanderbilt has had exceptional success in placing graduates in premier postdoctoral fellowships at research institutions worldwide. The average time to degree for the program during this period has been 5.2 years. The program has numerous milestones for assessing student progress during the course of their graduate training. The most tangible of these for prequalifying students is the Research Forum – a works in progress presentation to the entire program, which is mandatory for all students in years 3 and 4. In addition, course directors and the Director of Graduate Studies (DGS) closely monitor progress. Once the student has successfully passed into doctoral candidacy, primary oversight shifts on to the thesis committee, which meets at a maximum interval of every 9 months in order to assess progress and provide feedback on the student’s project. Students should prepare a brief summary of their progress and distribute it to the committee 1 week before the meeting.  The DGS meets personally with each post-qualifaction student once per year as well.

The trainee is certified by both the Program Director (Dr. Mark Wallace) and the Director of Graduate Studies (Dr. Bruce Carter) to be in good academic standing within the program and to be making good progress in their dissertation research.